Yorkshire banned from hosting international and major matches amid Azeem Rafiq racism scandal

051121 Roger Hutton and Azeem Rafiq, Yorkshire County Cricket Club

Yorkshire County Cricket Club has been suspended from hosting international and major fixtures, meaning no England cricket games will be played at Headingley, following the club's handling of claims of racist abuse made by former player Azeem Rafiq.

The announcement comes after the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) held an urgent meeting amid the racism row.

On the day more sponsors deserted the beleaguered club, the ECB admitted the “abhorrent” matter is “causing serious damage” to the reputation of the game.

The Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, who have summoned some of the club's board members before them in two weeks, said the decision should act as a "short sharp shock to bring the club to its senses."

Yorkshire have been criticised for their failure to release the report of their investigation into Rafiq’s allegations. In September they published a summary of the findings of the report.

While county chair Roger Hutton said at that time there was “no question” Rafiq had been the victim of racial harassment and bullying over the course of two spells at Yorkshire, the club announced last week that no individual would face disciplinary action as a consequence.

In a statement the ECB said that: "YCCC’s handling of the issues raised by Azeem Rafiq is wholly unacceptable and is causing serious damage to the reputation of the game.

"There is no place for racism or any form of discrimination in cricket and where it is found, swift action must be taken."

Gary Ballance, who admitted using racist language towards ex-team-mate Rafiq, has been suspended indefinitely from England selection, the ECB said.

The Board also agreed that:

  • The club’s failure in relation to actions and responses to their own report represent a significant breach of its obligations to the game.

  • It also agreed that sanctions including, but not limited to, financial and future major match allocations may be considered at the conclusion of our investigations.

  • In the meantime, YCCC are suspended from hosting international or major matches until it has clearly demonstrated that it can meet the standards expected of an international venue, ECB member and First Class County.

  • A review of Yorkshire CCC’s governance to consider whether the existing arrangements are fit for purpose.

  • That the regulatory processes already underway into the allegations will ultimately be determined by an independent tribunal held by the Cricket Disciplinary Committee.

The club is facing mounting pressure from concerned politicians and departing sponsors. Credit: PA

In 2022, Yorkshire are due to hold the third of three Tests against New Zealand, starting on June 23, as well as a one-day international against South Africa on July 24.

The Board reiterated its unwavering commitment to ensuring that cricket is a game for everyone.

They said: "Discrimination of any kind on the field of play, in the dressing room, in the stands, or in the boardroom is intolerable in sport or indeed, society. Cricket must work together to eradicate it."

The club have lost sponsors over the affair, and are reported to have called an emergency board meeting for Friday to discuss the fall-out from events.

Yorkshire shirt sponsor Anchor Butter severed ties with the club over their handling of the matter and Emerald Group Publishing has withdrawn its naming rights of Headingley Stadium among other tie-ins with the team.

Headingley Stadium. Credit: PA

Official kit supplier Nike is also reported to have cut ties with the club, with Yorkshire only having signed a four-year deal with the sportswear giant in March this year. Yorkshire Tea has also dissolved its association with immediate effect and Tetley’s Beer has confirmed it will back out at the end of its current deal, while Harrogate Spring Water has announced the immediate end of its sponsorship agreement.

The loss of sponsorship deals is expected to lose the club millions.

Yorkshire CCC's 2019 accounts showed it had earned just under £10.5million from international ticket and hospitality revenue, compared to just over £3m from commercial income which would include sponsorship.

Rafiq revealed he is still receiving abuse for speaking out about the racism and bullying he suffered over two spells at Yorkshire and said: “We wonder why people don’t come forward.”

In a separate tweet, posted on Thursday evening, Rafiq said he has acknowledged the ECB's statement but will not be commenting any further as he needs time to reflect on the actions the board has proposed to take.

He will appear before MPs on the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee later this month, as politicians look to scrutinise the investigation of the allegations.

A prominent group of the county’s politicians – including former Labour leader Ed Miliband and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves – wrote to the England and Wales Cricket Board chief executive Tom Harrison demanding “an immediate, comprehensive and independent inquiry into YCCC’s handling of the original allegations and the subsequent investigation”.